Eco-friendly data centers

On course for the COP [episode 4]. Technology and Ecology now work together. Discover how green IT embedds environmental issues... Orange leads you into a new generation data center.

On course for the COP: episode 4

© enia architectes - Photo © Stéphane Foulon for Orange


Without them the internet's heart would stop beating and we would have to forget about email, websites, social networks, digital banking, downloading files and remote shopping... in short, all the online services that make up our day-to-day digital lives.

They are data centers, essentially huge halls filled with computers, storage systems and telecoms equipment.

Installations that inspire plenty of delusions, and are frequently pilloried in the name of carbon, accused of being energy-guzzling monsters. But Green IT takes environmental concerns into account.

It is estimated that the 3,700 data centers spread around the globe consume 2% of the world's electricity consumption. And yet these millions of servers account only for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the internet. In contrast to the 28% generated by the network and... 47% by the users! (source

photo © Xavier Granet

Nevertheless, the energy challenge presented by data centers is significant. Tied of course to their operation and of course their cooling. We all know it: electronic equipment gets really warm (the heat of a laptop on your knees...) but is susceptible to over-heating. Hence the absolute need to keep them at a moderate temperature.

So there is nothing surprising in the fact that the big internet players look to every method to beat the heat. Microsoft was planning to set up server farms in Siberia, French storage specialist OVH is opening a giant data center in Quebec, Google has filed a patent for ocean-based data centers, IBM is trialling Cool Blue, a system for circulating refrigerated water through the doors of server cabinets, the Green Mountain data center uses the underground facilities of a former NATO munitions depot, and in the Loire region of France there are plans to re-purpose thousands of kilometres of caves and tunnels.

photo © Xavier Granet

Despite this plethora of creativity on all sides, one simple and effective solution is simply opening the window. It's known as free cooling, a cheap and innovative way to use external air to cool the servers. If the exterior air temperature reaches that of the air extracted from the servers, the system combines free cooling with a traditional mechanism: partial free cooling. Result: either artificial air conditioning is not used at all, or is only used as back-up

This is the system used by Orange's Val de Reuil data center in Normandy, near Rouen.

A "digital factory" ranked among the best in the world for environmental performance: High Quality Environmental standard certification, ISO 14001 and a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness - the ratio of total electrical consumption to computing electrical consumption) that can reach 1.3 and better. This in the knowledge that the theoretically "perfect" PUE is 1 and standard PUE is between 1.9 and 2.5.

A level of performance that enables the center to run at 80% free cooling for 11 months a year, with energy savings equivalent to the annual electrical consumption of a town of 30,000 inhabitants

During the July 2015 heatwave of particularly high average temperatures with peaks of 39°C, the data center was running on free cooling 65% of the time. The temperature between the bays stayed between 16 and 24°C (nominal value: 20° +/-4°); the product of optimal energy efficiency.

And while the Normandy plain was roasting in the sun, the data stayed nice and cool.

A guided tour of this new generation data centrer.  

photo © Xavier Granet

Find out more

  1. On the course for the COP (episode 1) : Orange participates in COP21 in Paris
  2. On the course for the COP (episode 2) : Smart cities : when the digital makes megacities more clever
  3. Cap sur la COP (épisode 3) :Orange rejoint la Fondation Ellen MacArthur pour l’économie circulaire
  4. Orange and environment